Replacement Heifer Selection

By: Tim Wilson and Cindy Sanders

When selecting a heifer, there are two questions you must ask yourself: What do you want your cowherd to look like in the future (phenotypically and genetically) and how can you keep them from being culled? Selecting replacement heifers from a calf crop may seem tricky but can be made easier by following a few simple suggestions.


Body type and conformation

Emphasis should be placed on animals with more internal volume and capacity, natural muscling and fleshing ability. Traits to look for are: spring of rib, depth of rib, natural thickness and shape down the top, thicker quartered, and width through the stifle.



Femininity is exhibited by a longer, more refined head that is sharper about the poll. Females should possess a long, trim neck and be smooth about the shoulders.


Calves running

Structural soundness

Replacement heifers are costly to develop and the goal is to keep them in the herd as long as possible. These females must be structurally sound in their feet and legs.


Oldest and heaviest heifers

The oldest and heaviest heifers in a calf crop were born from cows that calved early in the calving season. Although reproductive traits are considered low in heritability, heifers from reproductively sound cows should not be overlooked. Heifers that are the heaviest are more likely to reach puberty sooner compared to lighter weight counterparts.


Frame score

Frame score is easily determined and should be used in the heifer selection process to eliminate those that do not fit predetermined production goals. Selecting heifers with frame scores of 4 to 6 will result in mature cow weights of 1100 to 1250 pounds.



Calves with poor disposition may be a physical risk to anyone who handles them. Not only do they pose a danger, they may display decreased performance as compared to their calmer counterparts.


Select more than you need

By selecting 20 – 25% more heifers than you’ll need, you can cull late breeding or open heifers to offset production costs.

There are additional criteria that can be used in the selection process based on the needs of your operation. Replacement heifers are the future of your herd. Careful selection and development must be taken to ensure the best opportunity for success. To learn more about developing your heifers, additional information can be found at If you have questions regarding replacement heifer selection and development, feel free to contact your local county extension agent at any time.


Posted: November 13, 2019

Category: Agriculture, Livestock
Tags: Livestock, Management

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